threebodyproblemHugo Awards judges have resisted the the Sad Puppies movement, which allegedly gamed the nomination process for one of science fiction’s most respected competitions.

In a ceremony last night in Spokane, Washington, the judges refused to give out awards in such categories as Best Novella and Best Short Story.

Sad Puppies’ enemies have depicted them as anti-woman and anti-multicultural. (Puppies have denied the charges, based on the inclusion of writers of color, as well as female authors, in the movement’s lists of recommended books.)

If the Puppies’ enemies are right, the Best Novel was a veritable puppy-drowner, The Three Body Problem, a Chinese-language work written by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu and published by Tor Books. Here is an official list of the other winners.

Significantly, Liu’s work itself explores the diversity issue, among other things, in a plot telling how various kinds of terrestrial beings react to aliens. As summed up by Jason Heller on NPR:

The Three-Body Problem spans multiple decades and characters, but it zooms in on Ye Wenjie and Wang Miao, two scientists in the very near future. Wenjie is an astrophysicist with a haunted past; she’s the daughter of a physicist who was executed during the Cultural Revolution for daring to teach the ‘reactionary’ idea of general relativity. Miao is a nanotech engineer, and he’s been swept up in a virtual-reality, online video game called Three Body that’s so deeply metaphysical, it’s begun to resemble a cult.

“Either of these premises alone would be make for a rich SF novel, but Cixin Liu is only getting warmed up. By the time the book hits its peak, it’s unveiled a conspiracy that spans solar systems—one that not only threatens to alter the human race, but the very building blocks of physics that we’ve evolved to understand.”

Words like “physics” count; for sympathetic critics regard The Three Body Problem as hard science fiction, a subgenre where accuracy reigns supreme. In other words, if the novel’s defenders are correct, the Puppies can’t just write off this work as multicultural fantasy mush.

According to Wikipedia, Cixen Liu is 52 and has been a computer engineer at a power plant in Shanix province and was educated at the North China University of Water Conservancy and Electric Power. He has won the Galaxy Award, the most prestigious SF honor in China, nine times. He is also a Nebula winner.

So what are the Net and e-book angles here?

First off, it’s high time for even more multiculturalism in literature; this is a wired, multicultural world—get used to it. In SF and plenty of other genres, Western writers are going to see more and more competition from nonWestern countries, and services such as WattPad will just accelerate the trend. Young writers from places like Shanix will more easily find feedback and fans. In the semi-fictitious movie The Social Network, Facebook the Mark Zuckerberg character talks about all the high-IQ genius out there in a large country like China. Same idea applies to literary talent (not necessarily the same as IQ).

Meanwhile e-books will make it easier for nonWesterners to find audiences everywhere. If Western publishers want to flourish in the future, then the end of territorially based business arrangements should be a top priority. Otherwise the world will bypass the Old Guard. Reform of obsolete copyright laws would definitely help as well.

For now, congratulations to Cixin Liu!

A different perspective from NPR’s: Not everyone is a Liu fan. Chad Orzel, a scientist who describes himself as a “good, squishy liberal,” says that The Three Body Problem "is loaded with cool ideas—secret societies, scientific conspiracies, alien messages, apparently miraculous events." But then he says it " reads like second-rate Asimov. The characters are incredibly flat, and the key points of the plot are explained in horrible, leaden expository speeches. A lot of the plot turns on scientific ideas, and the speeches where the characters explain science to each other are just excruciatingly awful. The big setpieces toward the end that sounded cool in an online plot summary sounds pretty much the same in the actual book—like an online plot summary of something that would’ve been awesome in a different book. And the big reveal at the end is presented in the form of an awful infodump about what is basically comic-book science."

And just to emphasize again…: Not all Sad Puppies are necessarily anti-feminists or racists. Use of phrases like "Neo Nazi" could be overkill. One Sad Puppies supporter, Peter Grant, as described by TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows, claims to have “spent 18 years as an anti-Apartheid activist in South Africa" and to have "literally exchanged gunfire with real neo-Nazis."

Detail: In some publications it’s Cixin Liu; in others, Liu Cixin (for example, here in this bio in the New York Times). I’m going by Cixin Liu since that’s the way the book’s cover has it. Besides, the Times refers to “Mr. Liu.” I’ll welcome thoughts from TeleRead community members more familiar with Chinese names.

Related: TeleRead’s earlier coverage of the Sad Puppies controversy. I’m confident that Chris will weigh in with his own perspective, which may differ from mine. Also see Twitter reaction to the judges’ choices, as well as pre-ceremony commentary from iO9.


  1. A friend I was discussing it with last night suggested that Three Body Problem was the only non-Puppy nominee that the Puppies might also have found tolerable, so it could have gotten a bump from some of them ranking it ahead of the other non-Puppies but behind their own.

  2. Chinese names are last name then first name which makes it complex to shelve, especially if the publisher switched names around for translation, then the bookshelver (knowing a little about Chinese names) undoes the translators work. For what it’s work I shelve books translated from the Chinese assuming the last name is before the first name.

    The Three Body Problem is actully a pretty good science fiction novel – way better than David Webber’s repetitions, for example – but it’s flavor is not the same as an English novel and some readers may find it odd.

    I didnt nominate or vote in the Hugo Awards, and it’s the only book on the novel list I’ve read, so it’s hard to say the best book won. But it seem that it’s the likrly choice.

    Anyway, poor puppies. Maybe you should start your own award for white, conservative gun owners. Have on open carry conference where disagreements over best novel can be settled outside in the street like the old West.

  3. @Roguecyber: Thanks, but here’s a different perspective, from Wired: “The final Alfie of the night went to Kloos, a German-born writer (now he lives in New Hampshire), for turning down his Puppy-powered nomination and making room for the winner, The Three Body Problem. ‘I may get nominated again,’ he said after shaking Martin’s hand. ‘But knowing why I got this and who gave it to me—tonight, this beats the shit out of that rocket.'” Bottom line: While some puppies might have liked the hard science approach in The Three Body Problem—enough to make up for the diversity there—many puppies were gunning harder for other choices.

  4. @David Rothman Grr! My Kingdom for an edit button! So, I am not sure exactly what your quote is suppose to show. Is it that some of the original puppy nominees didn’t want to be associated with the puppies? Alright, no argument there. But what does that have to do with whether they voted for the three body problem.

  5. @Roguecyber: I’ll stand by what I said: “While some puppies might have liked the hard science approach in The Three Body Problem—enough to make up for the diversity there—many puppies were gunning harder for other choices.” I linked to and quoted the Wired article so people could see some support for that conclusion in context. Of course, that didn’t matter to you anyway since you consider the article to be biased. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree about that one.

    Still, at least we agree that “some of the original puppy nominees didn’t want to be associated with the puppies.” I went to one of the pups’ Facebook pages—full of hateful rants against gays, feminists, and others. Not all pups are like that, as the post made clear, but associations can matter at times.

    The whole puppies affair reminds me of the classic quote from Vietnam about burning a village to save it. In the name of depoliticizing the Hugos, the puppies are actually doing the opposite. On the negative, that makes it harder to be an SF writer. On the positive, maybe all this fuss will raise SF’s profile, and help novels of all viewpoints within the genre. May SF writers of every political philosophy flourish, including those I disagree with! Same for both the hard and soft subgenres!

    Addendum: I myself truly, truly dislike PC from either side. TeleRead was established originally to support the cause of well-stocked national digital libraries, a cause I’m still keen on. Do you know who wrote two gutsy “On the Right” columns in favor of the idea after I contacted him? None other than William F. Buckley, Jr., my political opposite. I’m still waiting for my fellow progressives as a group to catch up with me on the issue. Similarly, supposedly liberal publishers can act like robber barons on copyright matters.

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